Filling in the gaps: Reforms are being made to improve teacher training and boost results

Following a significant push to increase the number of schools and education options available, Ras Al Khaimah is now embarking on a series of reforms to improve the quality of education. Most schools and universities identify English, basic maths and communications as weaknesses in the student population, and see these as barriers to their employment after college.

According to some reports, only one in nine students from the public school system leaves school with the requisite English and maths skills; the remaining students are required to take remedial English and maths classes for up to two years before commencing university-level studies. However, the completion rate for these remedial courses is currently an issue.

An estimated 40% of students drop out of foundation classes, according to the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Research from the foundation highlights a number of key reasons for this phenomenon, including difficulties faced in completing course work, alternative employment offers and other socioeconomic factors NEW METHODS: The Ministry of Education (MoE) is currently implementing a series of five-year strategies under the Education 2020 plan to strengthen the sector and improve outcomes. Education 2020 marked a shift towards encouraging critical thinking and practical skills, and calls for a significant push to train teachers and modernise public schools. The plan is backed by investments of almost Dh7.4bn ($2bn).

More Accountability

In 2010, the MoE initiated a mentoring programme that partnered local principals in 50 public schools with Western counterparts. In addition, the education plan calls for measuring student outcomes and developing a national recruiting system that includes performance evaluation tools to assess teachers, teacher-training programmes and improved regulations. Data collection and analysis is currently fragmented among many departments in RAK and in the federal ministries. A comprehensive benchmarking system could help drive improvements across the education sector. Various government departments collect some data but schools are not held accountable for results and education outcomes. The government is gradually addressing this gap, particularly for higher education institutions. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR) is rolling out a national data collection scheme known as the Centre for Higher Education Data and Statistics (CHEDS), which started collecting data in August 2012 and will prepare annual reports that highlight key sector trends. It will also assess colleges and universities on their scale of operations, resources, research funding, student attainment, faculty quality and other indicators.

CHEDS adds to the existing processes for licensing and quality control that are currently under the mandate of the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). The CAA falls under the MoHESR and acts as the federal government’s quality assurance agency and is charged with “promoting educational excellence across diverse institutions of higher learning in the UAE”.

Making The Grade

The MoE is also collecting data annually to prepare reports on local schools. The reports focus on several key indicators, including the number of students, teachers and nationalities represented, as well as the distribution of staff and students across classes. However, the report does not provide an assessment of the quality of education or of the outcomes.

Al Qasimi Foundation

The Al Qasimi Foundation was established to help drive research on key issues in the education sector with the ultimate goal of informing and helping shape new policy. Recent research, for example, sheds light on enrolment patterns for male students in the UAE. According to the foundation, fewer than 30% of students in public higher education institutions are male, and these studies highlight reasons why some males avoid college all together and others drop out. Some factors include low socio-economic background, poorly educated and/or uninvolved parents, and demotivating school experiences marked by unsupportive teachers and disruptive classmates. In addition to its research arm, the Al Qasimi Foundation has a number of programmes related to capacity building and community engagement. Teaching skills are being improved through professional development workshops. Scholarships are also being provided to help RAK educators improve their knowledge by pursuing further education and training. Furthermore, the Al Qasimi Foundation is managing a bridge programme and overseas scholarship initiative that will help Emirati secondary school students and public sector professionals apply and attend universities in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. There are currently 30 students studying abroad under the programme with the support of grants received from the MoHESR.

All Connected

The Al Qasimi Foundation serves as an important conduit between the various private and public players in RAK’s education sector. The RAK Teachers’ Network, for example, was launched in 2010 to serve as a networking site to allow teachers from public and private schools in RAK to interact with each other and with counterparts in other emirates and even globally. The network currently has 450 members in 10 countries that share teaching materials, learning tools and other content to help serve their students better. Another goal of RAK’s education reform process is to drive Emiratisation within the sector. This includes attracting more Emiratis to the student body and hiring more qualified locals as faculty and staff. The Higher Colleges of Technology-RAK, for example, provide free education for UAE nationals. They also have the highest proportion of local versus international staff. The government offers a variety of scholarships to incentivise UAE nationals to enrol in other local schools and universities. The Al Qasimi Foundation was mandated to manage all other overseas scholarships and grants under what was formally titled the Sheikh Saqr Programme for Government Excellence. Local educational leaders agree that attracting talent at home will prove important to RAK’s economic success. “You can provide a great education system, but in order to add value you need to develop research and development (R&D) capacity, and this can only be done by attracting and retaining talent,” Franco Vigliotti, the dean at EPFL Middle East, told OBG. “This will ultimately benefit the entire country, both scientifically and economically. Examples can be found in countries where the culture of R&D is well established, such as the US, Switzerland or Singapore. New actors are also emerging with the same vision and with increasing momentum, for example China or Qatar, where R&D spending at the national level now reaches 2.5% of GDP.”

Offering Aid

Other institutions in RAK, such as RAK Medical and Health Sciences University (MHSU), are also involved in this process. RAK MHSU, for example, is working with the Ministry of Health to sponsor up to 50 students for the nursing programme each year. The university also gives merit-based scholarships. Those students who score above 95% on their exams, for example, get a 20% scholarship.

In a related move, the university has also developed a conversion course to encourage students in the arts stream to shift into MHSU’s health science programmes. In early 2013 there were 25 female students enrolled in the programme, which enables students to opt for RAK MHSU’s nursing degree.

“The Ministry of Health’s sponsoring of nationals for the nursing programme will help address concerns over the shortage of nursing professionals, especially nationals, not only in RAK, but also in the entire UAE,” said S Gurumadhva Rao, the vice-chancellor of RAK MHSU. “Given the health sector’s growth, this type of programme is essential for attracting more students to the field of health and medical sciences and ensuring highquality health professionals in our emirate.”

It will take several years to properly evaluate the effectiveness of the reforms being carried out in RAK’s education sector. Greater private sector involvement, combined with efficient regulatory oversight, is likely to increase competition and improve quality. While there are still challenges to developing the sector, education has consistently remained a priority for RAK’s government and the sector is set to continue growing.

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